The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Film Review

I was going to start this review with a paraphrased quote from the radio series or the book, preferably one that either had ‘…so good. You might think that Citizen Kane is a good film, but that’s peanuts to ‘The Hitchhiker’s…’ or, conversely, ‘…so bad. You might think that ‘Queen of the Damned’ was a bad film, but that’s peanuts to…’ et cetera.

I’m not though. Partially because one MJ Simpson has already done so but mostly because I really can’t be bothered. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the film (although I didn’t) it’s that I can’t be bothered making it out to be a big thing either way.

‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ is probably, for those who have never heard the radio series (or LPs) or read the books, fun and frolicism. It contains much that is funny, even if only vaguely, and… Well, that’s about it. Compared to any other version of ‘…the Guide…’ it is remarkably tame, timid and more incoherent. Indeed, it seems to miss the point of the original plotline(s).

I’m trying hard to be diplomatic about this review. Really hard. You see, people are enjoying this film and that aggravates me. Not because the film isn’t enjoyable; it obviously is. It’s just that it is such a meagre version of Adam’s work that I don’t see the point of it.

The film diverges from the radio series (which I will, for no good reason, take as being ‘the’ canon in several remarkable ways. The Vogons do a lot more, we meet the presidential candidate who ran opposite Zaphod and, well, the legend of Magrathea is strangely altered. The whole ‘Life, the Universe, Everything!’ sideral plot of the radio becomes the main motivation for the crew of the Heart of Gold (no resembling a teapot rather than a sports shoe). None of the new material does anything for the story (which was rather flimsy in the first instance) vbut it does do a number of things against it. The radio series worked because it was fast paced, but all this new nonsense slows the story of the film down.

I could go on for pages about this, but I’m not going to. I didn’t particulary enjoy the film but appreciate that it might well bring some new fans in to the ‘real’ stuff. It’s about time that we had a campaign for ‘Real Humour.’

(And yes, that’s probably the worst written review of a film I’ve ever done; it’s the subject material, I tell you.)

The Eleventh (and Penultimate) New Sermon of the Neo-Catholic Church

I have heard the sound of madness.

Have you ever either been so ill or, conversely, so excited and vital that attempts to sleep extend almost indefinitely? You have been forbidden the grace of rest; your stupor or energy are to be wasted in a state not quite life and not quite the lesser death. When denied sleep, denied rest, your mind processes information, it connects and tags every sound and image, all because your mind cannot, will not, rest. It is something which, given extended duration, will take a stable mind and rend it for all it is is worth.

For me this pseudo-madness has a noise, a signature sound that, experienced in any way, drives me to utter distraction. Until today I did not know what that noise was.

Now I do.

The sound of my madness is pink noise.

My madness is not the voices of psychosis, but the knowledge of every other voice that is not my own. My madness is the external world imposed upon my solitude, the sound of others when I would rather you be silent.

My madness is the madness of crowds.

For my madness is you.

It’s New ‘Who’ and it’s possibly better than ‘Great!’

I’ve been sitting on ‘Doctor Who’ related posts for a while now; I’ve got a half-written review of ‘Rose’ the first episode of the 2005 season of ‘Doctor Who’ written that I am unlikely to finish, mostly because I’m enjoying the show so much that sitting down to analyse it without becoming absorbed in rewatching the episode is currently impossible.

No, really.

But now that it is confirmed that Christopher Eccleston will not be returning for the 2006 season and that David Tennant is to be the tenth Doctor I feel I can finally say something about just how good this show is, not just from the perspective of entertainment but also from that glorious thing called ‘writing.’

Oh, and there will be spoilers. Three episodes in and we have a spoiler of world-destroying proportions, so if you haven’t seen the show and want to watch it with a certain childlike innocence go away now.

Otherwise, press on.

One of the acknowledged problems with the Paul McGann telemovie of ‘Doctor Who’ is that it starts off with another actor playing the Doctor and then, about ten minutes in, presents you with Paul McGann. Now, those of us who love Sylvester McCoy’s seventh Doctor think that this first ten minutes is damn nifty, but it must have confused and alienated a lot of the new viewers. It was pure fanwank having a regeneration in what was meant to be the pilot for a new TV series. It’s so continuity that really, it should have been done as a flashback in a later episode. Present your new character strongly and quickly. Russell T. Davies, the Executive Producer behind the new ‘Who,’ and the shows primary writer, knows this. Thus, whilst the fans will pick up on some obvious hints that Christopher Eccleston’s new Doctor has only recently become the ninth incarnation of his good self, the new viewers are presented with an interesting and likeable character as soon as he appears on screen.

And what an entrance.

The first story actually focuses more on the new companions, Rose Tyler, played more than ably by Billie Piper, who is a wonder to watch. Despite constant jokes by friends and flatmates about her previous career as a pop starlet, she is actually a very capable actress, and the first story would have fallen flat if she hadn’t been up to the job. ‘Rose’ (that being the first episode’s title) introduces the viewer to the Doctor via the companion, so it simultaneously has to set up a continuation and fresh start for a well-known character, it has to do this whilst giving us a very real and modern companion all at the same time. This is, of course, a good idea that could have been very easily mucked up. It isn’t, however, and a good thing too.

The art to this, in retrospect, was simple, like all ideas; I suspect eyes bled in working it out. The first story has returning villains (the Autons, last seen with Jon Pertwee) and their virtue is that they look like they could be human. Thus the first act of the story has the new companion being believably attacked by strange humanoid figures and aided by someone who might be in on a somewhat disturbing prank. Thus we sympathise with Rose and the mystery of this Doctor character grows. Thus, by the third act, when we know that the Doctor is something special, we have to realise this through Rose’s reactions and thus we like and understand her already. Sheer genius, and only surpassed by the second episodes, which focuses a little on the almost unnatural ability the Doctor has for persuading people who don’t even know him to take up travel in the TARDIS.

It’s enough to make me want to relocate to the UK right now so as to find a low level job in the BBC and start working my way up.

Anyway, perhaps more importantly, Davies has solved a huge problem, one that I didn’t even think of. This problem is ‘Who is the Doctor?’ It’s a strange problem; until the end of Patrick Troughton’s tenure as the Doctor it hadn’t ever really come up, but once the Timelords appeared there was no going back. Davies is obviously aware that people want to know more about the show’s titular character, but like Andrew Cartmel, he doesn’t want to give the entire game away. So he’s done something really big.

You see, the Doctor is the last of the Timelords.

His world has been destroyed.

His people are gone.

There was a war.

We have had three episodes screen thus far and in each one we have learnt just a little more about the Doctor. The suggestion is that the Timelords got involved in a war that the eighth Doctor then became embroiled in, and that his entire species (and his homeworld) were destroyed, leaving him alone in the Universe. It’s the kind of thing that gets the fans anxious and very excited (this is, after all, big news, what with the Timelords being all high and mighty (and non-interventionist). It is also perfect for new viewers; we now know the Doctor really is something special and we’re being given packets of information about him all the time.

The show just keeps on getting better.

Christopher Eccleston is certainly a contender now for my of my three favourite Doctors, and it is a pity that he is not coming back for another year. Even so, I understand why. No one knew that the show would survive in the ratings (currently it averages about 8.6 million viewers per episode) and the BBC, being a publically funded corporation, probably couldn’t afford to keep a retainer on Eccleston (if the show had failed then they would have had to pay him for a second, non-existent, year and that would have been expensive). Eccleston is a good actor, and good actors get jobs. By all likelihood he had work lined up for the coming year, and with no guarantee he would have a second year of ‘Who’ he probably took it. I would have done. It was, as far as anyone could see, almost pure luck they were getting the 2005 season.

And what a season thus far.

More on this, much more on this, later.

Zombies

I like zombies. I like zombie fiction… Well, I like one kind of zombie fiction, which is the cinematic telling of a zombie story. The written fiction, by and large, interests me not.

(Caveat; there is now a growing genre of zombie fiction in the world of comics, and some of this is good. I’m going to exempt it on the specious grounds that comics are, to some degree, closer to screenplays than short stories/novels. I know this is a bad argument and one day I might propound upon it more fully. Just not today.)

Zombie fiction, in the Romero age, is apocalyptic fiction in which the flesh-eating undead are a metaphor for social issues. For the most part written zombie fiction ignores the utility of the zombie as metaphor and replaces it as a killing machine that produces gore. And gore, for the most part, is actually quite hard to write.

It is not that difficult to cover an actor in strawberry syrup and blobs of bread to make someone look vaguely gory. If you want to be more impressive you can add prosthetic appliances (of various quality). Even badly done effects work in a limited way. Not so the written word. You can describe gore but that will not make it necessarily effective (which is to say disturbing and fearsome). Indeed, often it reads more as comedy and less like tragedy. It needs pacing, it needs context and it needs to occur to someone that you have an emotional response to. Someone biting a chunk out of a nobody does nothing for me; a zombie biting the hero’s mother (who she has been fighting to get to) does.

For the most part this is because zombie fiction is a sub-genre of horror mostly written by fans. Fan tolerance of writing is, unfortunately, high. Fans like the genre and will, for the most part, read anything in the genre. Thus, with nothing close to peer review, the writing focuses on the easy stuff to write; people biting other people. This is, I fear, the reason why Star Wars fan films consist mostly of sabre duels; they are easy to direct (by and large) and the fans like to watch them. This does not a good genre make.

Which is why I must shamefully admit that I write zombie fiction. Two stories thus far. I’d like to think that I am doing something more with the genre than people biting other people (I don’t make Star Wars fan films, however…) but perhaps I am not. Perhaps I am just writing more fan wank and indulging in that usual ego-stroking activity of ‘I understand the genre, unlike those sub-human fools!’ I would certainly like to think that I am trying to be telling story that happens to have zombies in it rather than writing about biting that tries to tell a story.

Oh well, at least I am trying to get the stuff published. That means something, doesn’t it?